There is something surrounding society's expectations of women that has always troubled me. Yes, indeed, unequal pay and objectification of women is up there in elements of society that affect me, but not today. Amongst the many gender stereotypes placed on women from girlhood, there is one in particular that I find uncomfortable - women are expected to want to be mothers and like children from day one.
Even in the cases of female criminals and murderers, a woman is more harshly tarred-and-feathered for her lack of motherly instincts than a man because women are expected to automatically have a connection with children and be good. As Helen Birch wrote in her articleA Special King of Evil, "Children, they reasoned, were more likely to trust a woman than a man." Was not Myra Hindley criticised more extremely than her partner-in-crime and criminally insane Ian Brady for Hindley was a woman and seen to have been more likely to show remorse due to her biological 'purpose'? Both killers were monsters and should have had equal damnation.
Now, I wish to take a step back for a moment. You may be thinking it is strange for me to say 'mothers from day one', but it is true. If you look at the toys advertised for girls even today - what do we have? Garish amounts of playthings that are designed to ingrain a want in young girls to be perfect little wives and moulded into aspiring little mummies when they grow up. Have you taken a stroll into the leading toy stores of today and seen the slightly disturbing variety of types of fake babies you can buy for your daughter? The increase of gender-centric toys was mentioned by Alice Robb in The New York Times in an article, How Gender Specific Toys Can Negatively Impact a Child's Development which detailed that "In the 1970s ... few children's toys were targeted specifically at boys or girls" but by the 1990s "gendered advertising had returned to 1950s-levels, and it continued to grow in the 2000s." Surely, we should be progressing not regressing?
People will disagree with me and say that parents do not automatically buy these gender-constructing toys for their girls. I agree with this to an extent dependant solely on my fragile faith in parents of today. Through the eyes of 90s nostalgia, for me, in a family dominated by women, playtime used to consist of battle re-enactments, the sinking of the Titanic, or the building and consequential destruction of Lego towns and cars. But we are unfortunately a rarity.
Let us leave the archaic attitude that women are baby-making machines in the past, and step away from this belief that being mothers and wishing to be 'children savvy' are the main aims in a female's life.
Mother and Child ... photo credit// thecmn on Flickr
From my own experience, since leaving university, teaching was a career choice given to me, and though extremely respectable, it is just not for me for one reason entirely; I do not like children.
An elderly relative of mine asked me if I had an interest in becoming a teacher to which I plainly told her my reasoning as to why I did not wish to take that career path, and I was met with shock and indignation, and a rhetoric on "how can I say I do not like children when you are, gasp, a female." Okay, those words never left her mouth, per say, but she did not have to say it, I knew what was expected of me in that moment and I did not deliver.
I'm sorry that I seem to be failing my biological design as I am not child-crazy but it is time that motherhood does not go hand in hand with being female. One of my friends has actively claimed she doesn't want kids and she should not be seen as any less of a woman; the same goes for those women who cannot have children. This sadness and feeling of failure stems not only from male expectations but from women too, as it is an ancient belief that motherhood has always used as a spectrum to measure the worth of women. Do we not remember recently how Andrea Leadsom used how Teresa May was childless as a way to measure her abilities as a leader?
We see this judgment in the world's most well-known literary greats, where failings to be a good mother is used against women as a way to judge their characters. This stereotype has existed for a long time and for some reason we have not dispelled it. Characters such as Medea, Queen Gertrude, Scarlett O'Hara, Anna Karenina, or Miss Havisham are women who are famous for being ridiculed and punished for their lack of abilities as a mother, pitted against the likes of Penelope from the Odyssey, Marmee from Little Women or Miss Honey from Matilda, whose overall kindness and charms are embodied by their love for their children. Hell, Medea's and Miss Havisham's lack of motherly love is used to emphasise their madness, as Gretchen Bisplinghoof writes "the melodramas stress that the woman must choose to be a mother (avoiding diversions such as a career) in order to avoid mental illness."
I hear you say that some of these literary women are from "eons ago", but it really is not so different to today. Let's skip to the present, and I still I find myself asking, "why must being a 'bitch' still coincide with a characteristic of being a bad mother?"
Take Once upon a Time for example, Lana Parrilla's character must be the Evil Queen as she is not a very good mother. Or, maybe, the mother, played by Tilda Swinton, in We Need To Talk About Kevin. This is a narrative, based on a book of the same name, which explores the catastrophic issues that arise from a scenario where a mother who does not warm or actually come to love her baby son, Kevin. Her husband and her life punishes her for not connecting with her son, and though you are meant to come your own conclusions, there is an element blaming her for the fact he becomes a mass-killer. Why, I could name a triad of evil men who have been destroyed and possibly beaten by their fathers and become some of History's most prolific dictators, but do we see many films detailing these relationships? No.
This brings me to my final point - the overwhelming element of society that reduces women to being the 'mother' not a 'human' is a narrative not much changed from literature written thousands of years ago. As soon as a woman gets pregnant, they become the mother, and overwhelmingly in certain literary or media depictions, she looses her personality.
We were given the satirical film Bad Moms earlier this year which reduces women into the characters of 'good moms' vs. 'bad moms', because it would be truly insane to have women with other things in life to worry about other than their children. Or, we are given characters such as Harley Quinn from the summer-blockbuster Suicide Squad. She is an attempt at a feminist heroine (I think) as she kicks butt, she is insane, and she is probably the best character of the film, albeit dressed in little to nothing whilst rubbing shoulders with fully clothed men. But in reality, what we really have is a trained psychiatrist with a PHD turned maniac who would give it all up if she could just marry and have children with her one love and puddin', the Joker.
I'm not saying that I will never have children, as definites do not exist. Nor am I saying that the actual act of having babies is phenomenal and an amazing thing that a woman can do. But, I am just tired as a woman of having a pressure to have children, as our 'body-clock' always seems to be running out. If I decide not to have them, as many women do or as many women sadly can't, we should not be judged upon by those that should be celebrating or supporting that for once we are taking charge of our bodies and not being told what to do.